All my life I had admired Japan, everything about it intrigued me and left me wanting to visit and travel this country that was so different from my own. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I had the chance to visit Japan, this was possible through an exchange program my school district had been doing every other year. The very second I found out about this opportunity I sent in my essay for why I was the perfect student to take on this trip. Within a few weeks I found myself in a room being interviewed about myself and why I so desperately wanted to go. Half a month later I had received a letter telling me I was chosen to go, half a year later I was put on a thirteen hour plane ride, my first one ever, to land in Japan.
Immediately after arriving in Japan I was put on a bus to take an hour drive to Hikone, where I would be staying with a host family for the next week. Although I had already met one of the daughters, Rino, in the family because earlier that year she had come to live with me to experience American schools and culture it was now my turn to meet her family. The student ambassador group I was traveling with and I went into a room with assorted snacks and candy to wait for our host families to arrive. Soon enough I was tapped on the shoulder by Rino and was introduced to her mom and her sister, Mari. We walked out to the car and one of the first things they asked me was what I liked to eat. "I want to try as much Japanese food as possible" with this response they were very pleased and the first place they took me was to a grocery store to pick out some food to eat for the next week.
The grocery store in Japan was extremely shocking. First of all, it was underground and above it was multiple clothing stores and supply stores. Second of all, it had many different foods than in America, a lot of it I didn't even recognize. Mari, Rino, and their mom would show me different foods and tell me what they are in English and wait for me to decide whether or not I wanted to eat it. I said yes to almost anything they showed me, I couldn't help myself I was so excited to try everything they had to offer.
After the grocery store we returned home where I met Rino's father and was shown my room and the bathroom so I could shower. After I had showered and had gotten dressed and ready for bed they showed me my school uniform that I would end up wearing the next day. Going to school in Japan was what I had looked forward to the most. After I had gotten in bed I was unable to sleep and tried my best but was too excited for the day to come. After an hour or two I had drifted into unconsciousness.
In Japan they are much more relaxed and like to take their time unlike my usual schedule. So first thing I did was put on my uniform and walk into the living room where I found everyone still in their pajamas eating break fest. They just looked at me and chuckled a little bit then invited me to sit down. I was given cereal, some rice, yogurt, and assorted fruits along with different types of sweet bread. Everything tasted so good and I couldn't help but eat seconds.
Soon enough Rino and I left for out walk to school and met up with two of Rino's friends. Although they didn't speak much English they tried their best to communicate with me and I used the very little Japanese I knew to communicate with them. Whenever I said just a word of Japanese they would be amazed and congratulate me for even trying to speak Japanese. When we arrived at school I was given many looks of curiosity and had many girls said things at me such as "kawaii", cute, and I would reply with a simple "arigato", thank you, and they would be so shocked and would blush because they thought I didn't understand them at all.
When we got to class the teacher had me come to the front and first introduce myself in English and ask the kids if they could understand what I said. Rino's homeroom teacher was also her English teacher so she would often quiz the students on what I had said and have me pronounce things on the board for the other students. After the students were done trying to figure out what I had said I said the same thing in Japanese and everyone was quite impressed.
When lunch time came around I was introduced to all of Rino's friends and ate the bento lunch, box lunch, that Rino's mom had prepared for me. Many of the girls wanted pictures with me and would tell me they were jealous of my hair and ask to touch it. In Japan blonde hair is very uncommon and is possibly a once in a lifetime chance to see a girl with natural blonde hair in person. Throughout my entire stay in Japan on girl pointed out my blue eyes, to this day she still randomly pops into my thoughts. I often find myself randomly missing the entire class I had stayed with for that short week.
While I was attending school in Japan there was an upcoming choir contest with each homeroom class. Every day the students practiced during and after school until the day came that the homerooms went against each other and performed for the whole school. Other than I there were two other student ambassadors that were part of my group going to the same school as me, one girl, Diana, was part of the winning homeroom. During my stay in Japan and while I was attending school there I met a boy named Shira who was very kind, we talked occasionally and he was one of the few boys I associated with while going to school in Japan. In Japan boys and girls don't typically associate very much and usually keep friendships within their own gender so it was very unusual for everyone that I was so outgoing and friendly with the boys. During the competition Shira's mother showed up and gave me a card with a heart shaped box with flowers inside. She talked to my homeroom teacher and my teacher translated what she said. From what I understood Shira often talked about me at home and his mother wanted to show her appreciation for me being his friend and gave me the card and the gift, I still have them to this day.
One day I was sitting in class and a student walked into the room and sat right in front of me, turned around, and said "hello", I said "hello" back but then my teacher kicked him out of the class room. Midway through class that same student and his friend yelled "hi" at me through the classrooms door and my teacher once again shooed them away. I wasn't sure how to think of the situation but now I find it very funny and flattering.
I had finally reached the end of the school week and found myself extremely upset but happy all at the same time. I was so glad to have the life changing experience, to be able to understand another culture, and another way to live, but all at the same time I hated it was coming to an end. During class my homeroom teacher presented me with a huge card with pictures of the students and I she had taken over course of the week with little stickers and at the back of the card there was a little message from each student and with their signature and in the middle of the card was a picture of me sitting with my class. I then said goodbye to my class and how I would miss them all and how much they affected me. Then I gave hugs and lastly hugged Shira, which the teacher and many students took pictures of. Many of the girls told me they loved me and I said the same then went home.
My experience in Japan was life changing and has affected me more than anything else has. It helped me mature and gave me a more open mind and has even affected my plans for the future. I am to this day still in contact with Rino and Mari, and after a year of living with them spent a day with Mari when she visited the U.S. for college. I now hope to study abroad in Japan and possibly major in linguistics to destroy any future language barriers I may have a speak freely to Rino and her family with no problem.
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